There are not many performers who can steal even an iota of the spotlight away from Beyonce when she’s locked in. But in Black is King, her latest visual album released an intriguing figure returns again and again to demand viewers’ attention.
That man is Stephen “Papi” Ojo, a self-taught 22-year-old Nigerian-born performer who has quietly played an outsize role in bringing African dance to American stages. In Black is King, Ojo is the most prominent face beyond that of its headlining star. He plays the “blue man,” who represents the subconscious of the protagonist prince and the power of African dance.
“I have to make sure my people are properly represented,” Ojo says. “The fact that we have a legend like Beyoncé doing these moves will make people generations from now want to research them and think, ‘If Beyoncé is doing it, it must be important! It must have some kind of meaning.’”
The Nigerian born dancer who moved to Brooklyn when he was 11 years old is a member of a group called the A.V.O Boyz was first invited to be a part of the music video and also ended up teaching Beyonce some of the famous Nigerian dance moves.
“She was a very good student,” he says. “Paying homage to the originators, paying respect to our culture—some people might not care. But she was very receptive. She was being respectful the whole time, listening. And every move was clean, sharp, crisp.”
He hopes to raise even more awareness and love for his cultural roots. “A lot more people want to do research, learn the dances, or understand what part of Africa they’re from,” he says. “It’s just a beautiful thing to see.”